The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.
Saint Augustine
Delights of Vienna

Prior to my recent visit to Vienna, the capital city of Austria, I knew little more about the city than that it was on the banks of a river called the Danube, a musical genius named Mozart once lived there, a fried veal dish called Wiener Schnitzel was its culinary delight and seats at performances by an angelic sounding boys group called the Vienna Boys Choir were hard to come by. 

St. Peter's Cathedral Vienna
What I found during my brief afternoon and overnight stay was that while Vienna may not carry the influence and power of Washington, DC, the US capital city, it more than holds its own when it comes to historical importance, cultural interest, urban vitality and scenic beauty.  

Situated in northwestern Austria on the banks of the Danube, Vienna is the most popular urban tourist destination in Austria. My walking exploration of the city began in early afternoon with a visit to the famous St. Stephen’s
Mozarthaus ViennaCathedral. First built in 1147 AD, this Gothic cathedral has survived both fire and war but now stands proudly as a symbol of Vienna’s freedom. The south tower, second of the cathedral’s two towers, stands at 445 feet tall (136 meters) and is a dominant feature of Vienna’s skyline. 

Next I took a self-guided tour of Mozarthaus Vienna, the largest, most elegant and most expensive apartment in which Mozart and his family actually lived. According to current records, it is his only residence in Vienna to have survived. As I walked through the apartment, I found few pieces of original furniture. However, through the interactive displays,
Pestsaule, German for plague columnclothing, operatic sheet music, photographs, documents and other period specific items on display and a lot of imagination, I left with a greater sense of appreciation for Mozart’s lifestyle during his stay in Vienna.
Down a narrow street a few steps from Mozarthaus is Stephensplatz, the spacious plaza in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The plaza was pleasantly crowded on the warm, sunny afternoon of my visit as was nearby Graben, a wide pedestrian area lined by exclusive shops and restaurants. Scores of Viennese and tourists were window shopping or just relaxing under wide
café umbrellas with a cup of Viennese coffee and a piece of legendary Sachertorte, the city’s most famous chocolate cake desert. 

A short walk down Graben took me pass the Pestsaule, o
ne of the most well-known and prominent pieces of baroque sculpture in Vienna. Pestsaule, German for plague column, was erected in appreciation and commemoration for deliverance from the Great Plague of Vienna in the 17th century.

I took a quick peek inside the Church of St. Peter, the second oldest church in Vienna. I marveled at the interior walls beautifully painted with frescoes by renowned Austrian artist Johann Rottmayr and thought by many to be the most lavishly decorated baroque church in the city. 
Emperor’s Gate  
At the end of Graben I turned left onto Kohlmarkt. Dominating the end of the short street is the elaborate Emperor’s Gate which leads to apartments of the Hofburg Palace. Marble sculptures of the Labours of Hercules stand on each side of the massive curved facade. Twin columns stand above each of the sculptures. Crowning the building and portico is a 165 foot (50 meters) green and gilded dome.
For more than seven centuries, the Hofburg Palace was the political center of the Habsburg (sometimes anglicized as Hapsburg) monarchy. Today the Palace houses the offices of
Franz II Monument, Former Emperor of Austriathe President of Austria, a church and several popular museums, cafes and restaurants. I walked through the Emperor’s Gate into the courtyard of the Palace.  In the middle of the large bricked courtyard stands a large monument of Franz II, former Emperor of Austria.

Leaving the Palace courtyard, I strolled along Heldenplatz (Heroes Square) and took in the spectacular view of the tall Gothic spires of the Rathaus or Town Hall towering over the trees. I headed in that direction but ended up in
Rathaus, Vienna  Town HallVolksgarten, or people’s garden. The focal point of Vienna’s first public garden is the Neoclassical Doric Theseus Temple, a replica of the Temple of Hephaestus circa 449 BC, thought to be the world’s best preserved ancient Greek temple. In a corner of the garden is a statute of Empress Elizabeth (Sisi), Vienna’s beloved princess who was assassinated in Geneva in 1898.
Sisi Fountain
On one end is the statute of Franz Grillparzer, one of Austria’s greate
st 19th century playwrights.  In a prominent spot in the garden is a beautiful water fountain memorial which honors the beloved Sisi. Rose benches, comfortable chairs and benches are situated throughout the garden. A tall protective wall nearly encircling the entire garden blocks most of the traffic noise and creates a respite of peace and quiet in the heart of Vienna.

After leisurely strolling along the garden’s footpath, I exited onto Doktor-Karl-Lueger-Ring, the name given to the Ringstrasse in this part of the city. The street name of the Ringstrasse, a 4 km (about 2 ½ miles) long boulevard that encircles Vienna’s historic district, changes as it moves around the Innere Stadt or first district.
Austrian Parliament Building
My wal
k along the Ring took me past the Austrian Parliament Building where the National and Federal Councils have met since 1918. The Parliament Building is the largest, most impressive building on the Ring.  Its entrance is supported by Corinthian pillars and decorated with numerous Greek and Roman statutes. The 4.5 meters (15 feet) tall Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is the most prominent of the statutes. In the triangular space forming the gable above the portico are detailed carvings depicting Franz Joseph I granting the constitution to the peoples of the 17 provinces of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.
With the sun sinking low in the western sky, I decided it was time to head back to the hotel to dress for dinner with friends. Since I had forgotten to bring my street map, I immediately ruled out walking back to the hotel.
When hailing a taxi on the Ring failed, I began looking for a hotel with a taxi queue.  Along the way, I passed the Burgtheater, one of the most important German language theaters in the world. Burgtheater, German language theatre

I was glad to finally get off my feet after climbing into the taxi at a hotel on the Ring. Even though I told the driver that I was running late, he insisted on giving me a quick tour that included a drive down Mariahilferstrasse, a crowded street where, according to the taxi driver, you can buy anything that Vienna has to offer.
Prior to dinner, I was delighted to have the special privilege of going on an exclusive private after-hours tour of the Schonbrunn Palace. The more than 400 year old palace was the summer home of the Habsburgs, the most prominent European royal dynasty from the 10th century to Schonbrunn Palacethe 20th century. The grand baroque palace was built between 1696 and 1712 but redesigned by Empress Maria Theresa when she ascended to the throne in 1740. Today,
the ochre colored 1441 room UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site visited by 1.3 million visitors each year remains essentially as designed by Empress Theresa.
During Empress Theresa’s 40 year reign, the palace served as a stage for great ceremonial balls and fabulous receptions. The lavish banquet room with magnificent chandeliers and beautifully painted frescoes could simultaneously accommodate three hundred dinner guests then be quickly transformed into a ballroom. With strong support for art and new civic policies such as a
formal public education system, Empress Theresa’s reign was considered a “Golden Age” for Austria.
Schonbrunn Palace Ballroom
 The Palace complex is expansive and includes formal gardens with pools and fountains, the Baroque Palace Theater, a zoo, the Palm House with several climatic zones, and a strategically placed elevated baroque Gloriette pavilion with its nearly 66 foot high (20 meters) observation deck overlooking the Palace and parts of the city.
Schonbrunn Palace Garden 
My long day was topped off with a delicious dinner of herbs salad with ginger and papadam and a grilled sea bass at the Palmenhaus Restaurant. This greenhouse for plants used to decorate official functions has a 50 foot high (15 meters) glass and steel canopy, huge palm trees and numerous other lush green plants. From almost any seat in the restaurant, diners have a view overlooking the formal terraces of the Burggarten, a beautiful garden near the Hofburg Palace and the Vienna Opera House. The Burggarten is the site of Mozart’s statute and home of the butterfly house. After a couple of glasses of wine, I could no longer ignore my fast approaching jet lag. Fortunately, the walk back to the Altstadt Vienna hotel was a short one and, fortunately, my friends knew the way.

If you go

The train is the best way to get to Vienna from any of the neighboring countries. Depending on your travel itinerary, you can use the Eurail Pass or a Rail Europe point-to-point ticket.  KLM/NWA airlines provide daily flights from all major US airports.

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